News just in of a lawsuit to challenge Governor Hutchinson’s early cutoff of extra federal unemployment benefits related to pandemic aid.
Suits have been filed in other states. Judges in Maryland and Indiana have already ruled that benefits should be reinstated until the lawsuits are resolved.
Governor Hutchinson announced in May that he’d ordered an end to an extension of federally paid benefits — $300 a week in some cases — effective June 26, 10 weeks early. He and other Republican governors said the benefits had done their job to help during the pandemic and it was time for people to go back to work. It hasn’t had that effect, many looks at the issue have shown.
The new lawsuit, by Legal Aid of Arkansas (a winner in challenging the state’s work rule for Medicaid expansion), was filed in state court in Pulaski County against the governor and his Workforce Services director, Charisse Childers. It asks for an order to restart the payments to almost 69,000 people.
The lawsuit argues that the action was prohibited by the state’s agreement to work with the federal government on unemployment programs.
As explained and analyzed below, the three pandemic-related unemployment programs— Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), and Pandemic Extended Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)—are funded and transferred to the state through the Social Security Act. In addition, they are subject to multiple provisions of the Social Security Act and the other identified federal laws, including those= prescribing eligibility criteria, the appeals process, overpayment provisions, and fraud penalties.
Consequently, the Defendants’ actions to effect the program’s termination violate the statute and, by extension, the Arkansas Constitution’s provisions regarding the separation of powers. Such actions are also an exercise in unlawful or ultra vires action. As such, the Plaintiffs are entitled to immediate injunctive relief requiring the state to immediately resume paying the terminated benefits.
The suit was assigned to Judge Herb Wright.
The plaintiffs are five people from Saline, White, Pulaski and Benton Counties who say they lost work because of the pandemic and have been unable to find employment despite trying to do so. They would still be receiving benefits ranging from $432 to $751 a week but for Hutchinson’s order. This has created problems with rent, utility bills, groceries and other basic needs, the lawsuit says. The surge in the virus and low vaccination rate doesn’t bode well for the job market, the suit says.
The money is available from the federal government to pay the benefits and the state is still processing those still eligible for new benefits.
I’m seeking comment from the governor.